India expressed its displeasure over the new constitution of Nepal promulgated on 20th September 2015. The new constitution does not accommodate the aspirations of the Terai people as it is tilted in favour upper caste hill tribes. The inhabitants of Terai, led by Madhesis and Tharus, have been agitating for their proper representation in the new constitution. The government tried to suppress this agitation by brute force which led to killing of over 40 people and border blockade. This blockade subsequently choked the supply of essential commodities in Nepal like oil, gas and foods.
Amendments can be adopted with relative ease over the next two years as the Constituent Assembly enjoys a kind of afterlife as a Parliament with the same party based configuration. Everything except sovereignty and national integrity are open to amendment.
The new Constitution has a provision for a 165-member Parliament, but the constituencies have been demarcated in such a way that the people of the hill and mountain region would get 100 seats, despite the fact that their share in Nepal's total population is less than 50 per cent. On the other hand, the Terai region constituting over half of the country's population has been allocated only 65 seats.
Bone of contention/Madhesi demand
• The new Constitution states that only citizens by descent will be entitled to hold the higher posts like President, Vice-President, Prime Minister etc which is seen as discriminatory by Madhesis who have acquired citizenship by birth or naturalization.
• The Madhesis and Tharus, are concerned about the proposed boundaries of the new provinces as only eight districts in the Terai region have been given the status of a province, the remaining 14 districts are to be joined with the hill districts which could lead to their political marginalization. They are demanding for enlargement madhes state by including remaining districts.
• The new Constitution states that National Assembly (Upper House) will comprise 8 members from each of 7 States and 3 nominated members. Madhesi parties want representation in National Assembly to be based on population of the Provinces.
• Madhesi parties wants delineation of electoral constituencies every 10 years ( as per interim Constitution) against 20 years in the new constitution.
The Madheshis and the Tharus have always been humiliated ever since the central and eastern parts of Terai were gifted away by the British East India Company to Nepal partly after the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 and partly after the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) in 1860. The hill elites have always doubted the loyalty of the Madheshis towards the nation.
Nepal-India relationship over the years
India-Nepal relation has reached all time low notwithstanding India’s humanitarian aid in the wake of the devastating earthquake and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s twice visit to the hill state.
• The India–Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal. Under the provisions of this Treaty, the Nepalese citizens have enjoyed facilities and opportunities at par with the Indian citizens. The Treaty has allowed Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a land–locked country.
• India brokered Peace Agreement of 2006 between Maoists and major political parties led to the formation of interim constitution in 2008.
• The bilateral trade with India accounted for 66% of total Nepalese external trade as of 2013. India is Nepal’s largest source of foreign investment, accounting for 40% of the total foreign investments in Nepal.
• Approximately 6,00,000 Indian lives in Nepal. These include businessmen and traders, and professionals like engineer, doctor and IT professionals.
The government and the main political parties, dominated by hill elites had so far remained insensitive to the demands of madhesis, Tharus and other ethnic tribes. The present situation underscores the growing divide within Nepali society that has implications for India which shares a long border of 1850 kms. The Hindi-speaking Madhesis, who inhabit the southern region of the country bordering India have close ethnic tie of “beti and roti” with people of India. India cannot afford to remain oblivion to this happening as it is strategically very important to us. India has expressed its displeasure without impinging on the sovereignty of Nepal.
India sees the present ebb in relation as ephemeral and in the long run will have a more enduring relationship.